Product Liability

Wal-Mart, CPSC act to foil use of cadmium in children’s products

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the world’s largest retailer, is pulling items of children’s jewelry known or suspected to be manufactured with high levels of toxic cadmium from store shelves. The move follows an Associated Press investigation published earlier this week which found some China-based manufacturers were creating children’s jewelry with varying amounts of cadmium — a heavy medal considered by the federal government to be one of the most toxic substances on earth.

Cadmium is a soft metal that occurs naturally in soil. Exposure to concentrated quantities of it, however, can have debilitating effects on humans. The metal is known to cause cancer and hinder brain development in children. It can also damage kidneys and make bones brittle and prone to snap.

Melissa Hill, a Wal-Mart spokesman, called the AP findings “troubling.” On Monday, the retail giant issued a public statement seeking to reassure customers that it was taking action.

“We know our customers are concerned about product safety, particularly as it relates to children’s products, and so are we. We will immediately remove from sale those items identified in recent media reports regarding cadmium while our own investigation is being completed, and until more is known.”

The statement went on to say that “as the world’s largest retailer we have a responsibility to take swift action and we’re doing so.”

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission also acted quickly in response to the AP report and immediately launched and investigation into the apparent widespread use of cadmium in children’s products. On Tuesday, CPSC representatives met with regulators at the APEC Toy Safety Initiative / Dialogue in Hong Kong to deliver a recorded message by Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. In the message, Tenenbaum warned manufacturers against the use of heavy metals, “especially cadmium,” in children’s products.

Tenenbaum praised manufacturers for removing lead from children’s products, as decreed by the CPSC in the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which went into effect on August 14, 2009. The new requirements drastically reduced the legally permissible amounts of lead that could be used in materials, paint, and other surface coatings for children’s products.

However, once the tough new regulations took effect, some Asian manufacturers sought ways to protect their profit margins by finding cheap replacements for lead.

Tenenbaum told Chinese manufacturers to refrain from substituting other heavy metals for lead.

Cadmium, antimony, or barium have similar properties as lead and are equally toxic or more toxic than lead to humans .

Tenenbaum said the CPSC would remain especially vigilant for plentiful and cheap cadmium in Chinese exports and noted that “voluntary efforts will only take us so far.”

U.S. lawmakers and consumer advocates also called for great consumer protection.

“This is just the latest example of the need for stronger consumer safety laws in this country, especially for products manufactured and marketed for children, and shows yet again why products from China should be subject to additional scrutiny,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn).

“Between children’s jewelry, tainted milk and contaminated pet food, China has a long record of producing unsafe products, and the U.S. should continue to be wary of all products arriving from China,” DeLauro said.